Food producers given week to test beef products for horse

LONDON — Britain’s Food Standards Agency gave food makers a week to test all their beef products after a range of lasagnas produced by Findus Group was found to contain more than 60 percent horse meat.

The agency also said it involved the police in Britain and Europe as evidence of horse meat in burgers and lasagna “points to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain,” according to a statement on its website today.

British supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Aldi have removed some ranges of frozen beef burgers from their shelves in the past month as concern has escalated over tainted meat. Tesco last week dropped one of its suppliers after the discovery of horse DNA in some products.

The government body set a deadline of Feb. 15 for food producers to test for horse meat and report back with results, according to a statement on its website Thursday night.

The FSA “is now requiring a more robust response from the food industry in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label,” Chief Executive Officer Catherine Brown said in the statement. “We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagna, and provide the results to the FSA.”

For now, the FSA doesn’t intend to widen the scope of the testing and the agency will await the results, a spokesman said. A Findus spokesman couldn’t immediately comment when contacted by phone by Bloomberg News.

“This issue is probably going to run all year,” said Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Kantar Retail in London. “The big question is obviously now that we don’t know what else we don’t know. For the retailers, the challenge may be that some shoppers will become more aware of providence and that cheap comes at a price.”

As well as removing Findus beef lasagna, Tesco withdrew its own-brand Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese, which was produced at the same site as the Findus product by French food company Comigel, a Tesco spokeswoman said.

Tesco announced on Jan. 30 that it would test the DNA of all meat products to avoid deviation from its standards.

Nobody was immediately available at Comigel when it was phoned by Bloomberg News.

ABP Food Group, the company whose Silvercrest Foods unit was at the centre of the initial discovery of horse meat, said Jan. 16 it would conduct its own DNA tests on “a wide number of samples.” A spokeswoman for the company said today that for now she couldn’t go beyond that statement.

Prime Minister David Cameron is “aware of the very distasteful issue,” his spokeswoman, Vickie Sheriff, told reporters in London Friday. “There’s nothing to suggest any health risk. All the incidents that have come to light are acts of criminality which seem to have happened overseas.”

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